Emerson O’Dell Underhill

           Emerson O’Dell Underhill was born on November 17, 1931 at Barnettville, New Brunswick.  He is the son of Catherine Myrna Elizabeth (nee Sturgeon) and the late Henry James O’Dell Underhill.

          As the result of a motor vehicle accident on October 24, 1965, Emerson immediately became a paraplegic.  The accident didn’t stop him though from raising a family, and accomplishing many goals.

In 1966, while a patient at the old Victoria Hospital in Fredericton, he met the late Herman Hare from Sunny Corner, New Brunswick.  Herman, a notable fly tier from the northwest Miramichi River area, had his fly tying gear with him.  Herman wanted Emerson to try tying a fly.  Herman gave the instruction as Emerson tied his very first fly.  It was an “Orange Butt Black Bear”, which he still has.  They were very pleased with the way the fly turned out considering it was Emerson Underhill’s first time at a fly-tying vice.  The experience caused Emerson to become extremely interested in the art of fly tying. 

After they returned home from the hospital they kept in close contact with each other.  Their love for fly tying helped draw them closer together, and it helped to keep them active also.  They were continuously sharing patterns and exchanging flies.  Herman helped Emerson buy fly tying materials from Veniards in England, because Herman understood the value and exchange on the English currency.  “Herman Hare was a wonderful friend, and a very talented fly tier.  He could tie the fully dressed flies just about as good as anyone.  He continuously gave me help and encouragement with my fly tying right up until his death in 1979”, says Emerson. 

In the Early 1980’s, when they held the Farmer’s Market in Doaktown on Saturday mornings, Emerson Underhill went there to sell his salmon flies and leatherwork.  It was during this time that he originated the “Green Machine” salmon fly. 

 

Origin of the Green Machine
By Emerson O. Underhill

 

“There wasn’t a lot of thought behind creating the “Green Machine.”  I was experimenting with the deer hair for the body of the “Shady Lady.”  I was dying a lot of deer hair and experimenting with the colors on different bugs too.  When I first tied the “Green Machine” I used dark green deer hair.  I also tied the same fly using deer hair dyed Kelly green, Forest green with a small bit of Insect green mixed in.  Sometimes I would add a little touch of dark olive dye to get just the right color green.  The fly was not tied first using light green hair as stated in a well-known book written about Atlantic salmon flies.  It was a while later before other fly tiers tied the “Green Machine” using the brighter green-colored deer hair.  I use it some now also, but most of the fishermen I know prefer the dark green color.  Dressed as it is with spun deer hair, you’d tend to fish it dry but it is meant to be fished wet fly style”, says Emerson. 

A little six-year-old boy named the “Green Machine”.  The boy would stand around Emerson’s fly tying table every Saturday morning at the Farmers Market. He was always asking Emerson what the flies were called.  He would go about pointing to this one, and that one, wanting to know their names.  One morning Emerson was displaying the little green deer hair bug.  Sure enough, the little boy arrived as usual and he immediately pointed to the fly and asked what it was called.  Emerson told him it didn’t have a name.  The youngster’s response was,  “It’s a “Green Machine.”   Emerson said, “All right, that’s what we’ll call it.”  A long time after Emerson stopped going to the Farmers Market, he wondered where the little boy got that name. “The only thing I can think of is that, around that same time, a toy manufacturer sold a child’s all-plastic 3-wheel tricycle called the “Green Machine”.  Whether the little boy had one of those tricycles, or whether he was thinking about something else, I’ll never know, and sadly I have no idea who the little boy was, because I never thought to ask him his name”, says Emerson.

Since the time that Emerson started tying the “Green Machine” he’s had fishermen drive all the way from Juniper, New Brunswick just to get the dark green deer hair he dyes especially for tying the “Green Machine”.

Over the past 15 years Emerson told only a few very close friends about the origin of the “Green Machine”, and how it got its name.  It was in the summer of 1997, when those same friends went to Emerson and persuaded him to go public with the story.  It was then that he decided to give his story to Dewey Gillespie so it could be published.  “It was very hard for me to do for I am a shy person who doesn’t look for any kind of recognition.  Telling this story is not about recognition for myself, but simply to set the fly tying history books straight.  This New Brunswick favorite and extremely successful salmon fly was originated by me, and named by a little boy from Doaktown, New Brunswick.  Beyond a doubt, the “Green Machine” has become one of the best known and extremely successful salmon flies on all the rivers in New Brunswick.  I am so proud of the little fly.  It deserves all the recognition for its contribution in making many a successful angler”, says Emerson.

On May 16, 1989, George Gruenefeld, a writer for the Montreal Gazette wrote about Emerson Underhill dressing original patterns of the “Green Machine”, “Shady Lady” and a blue version called the “Smurf.”

 

Origin of the “Deer Hair” Shady Lady

By Emerson O. Underhill

 

            The “Shady Lady” was originated in the early 1950’s.  The original pattern was tied with a black dun wool body.  Some later fly tiers tied the fly with a black chenille body.  In the 1980’s, the Shady Lady’s pattern changed again, this time to a body made from black deer hair.  This version seems to be the most successful and widely used for salmon fishing in New Brunswick.  Emerson Underhill is the fly tier responsible for the latest change to the “Shady Lady.”  Here’s how it happened.

“While displaying my salmon flies at the Farmer’s Market at Doaktown in the mid 1980’s, I met Tom Balash, a fine fly tier from the United States, who I later became very good friends with.  Tom had a camp on the Miramichi River near Doaktown.  On the weekends he would visit the market where we’d discuss fly patterns.  One day I was looking through some of his flies and found a pattern that resembled a little black bug.  I asked Tom what the fly was called and he told me it was a “Shady Lady.”  Up until that time I never heard of the fly.  I began asking a lot of the older fishermen and fly tiers about the fly, but I couldn’t find anyone that knew, or heard anything about it.”

“One day I decided I would tie some “Shady Ladies”, but when I tried to put the feather on the chenille body it didn’t work that good so I decided to try tying it with black deer hair.  When I first started tying the “Shady Lady” I tied it with a red butt and a little red tag.  Then I tied some with a green butt and a little red tag.  I also tied it with a double butt and red tag.  It’ll also work well with a brown hackle. 

Fishermen started using the fly and when the word got around I couldn’t keep up with the demand.  For a long time fishermen thought that the name “Shady Lady” was a joke.  They’d never heard of a fly by that name.  After all these years the fly has never died out.  I used to laugh when I would read in the paper about someone catching a salmon on the “Shady Lady.”  From time to time someone would announce on the radio that the fly-of-the-day was a “Shady Lady.”  The “Shady Lady” is one of the best salmon flies on the Miramichi River.

For a long time I thought of making the story known, but just put it off.  Being the type of man that I am I’ve always been a bit shy when trying to speak for myself. I worried that people would feel I was trying to glorify myself.  This summer a friend from Georgia, U.S.A. who knew the story came to me and persuaded me to write the story for Dewey Gillespie’s new book that he’s doing about New Brunswick fly tiers.  This is when I decided to give the story to Gillespie. 

For the past 30 years Emerson tied salmon flies for a countless number of people and businesses.  In one year he tied two thousand Bombers for just one order.  He remembers selling them for fifty cents each.  He’s tied flies for people from all over the world, and has people coming to my home to visit and to buy his salmon flies.  The wonderful people complement him about his flies.  Although he appreciates the compliments he never takes them to serious for he feels that someone else could probably tie them better.

“Ted Williams and his long-time guide, the late Roy Curtis, visited me regularly, and were good friends of mine.  Nearly every day, through the window in my fly tying shop, I would watch them drive by.  Every year they would bring me a couple of fish.  Ted would pick up some materials, and of course they always had a story or two to tell.  I remember showing Ted how to tie the “Green Machine.”  It was a wonderful experience and a great pastime.  The contribution these people made enabled me to live a more comfortable life confined to a wheelchair.  I always appreciate the help and encouragement so many wonderful people give to me, especially the local people from along the Miramichi River.  They are very special people”, says Emerson.

          Emerson believes there can be no one more deserving of his thanks than his children, and wife Ruth.  In a time of need they were always present to fulfill his requests as best they could.  There is no way to repay them for this.  “I sometimes wonder how many dustpans of deer hair Ruth swept up behind me over the past 38 years.”

          Thirty eight years of fly tying has gone by quickly, but Emerson hopes to tie flies for another thirty years because he hasn’t yet tied half the flies he wants to.  He estimates that he has tied one hundred and fifty thousand flies thus far.  He’s heard about as many fishing stories too.  If God’s willing, Emerson Underhill will be tying salmon flies for a long time yet.

Green Machine

 

Head:                Black

Tip:                   Oval silver tinsel

Tail:                  Red yarn

Butt:                  Green yarn

Body:                 Green Deer hair

Body Hackle:        Brown

“Green Machine” originated and tied by Emerson O. Underhill 

 

 Emerson Underhill at the tying bench in 2000

 

 

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